International Health Humanities Network Impact Reports and Narrative

Imagined Landscapes - Performance and composition residency with Firefly Burning and rb&hArts;, Royal Brompton Hospital, Jan – March 2013

Short Description

This narrative appears with additional quotes and pictures on the Case Studies section of our website:


To engage people spending time on the adult surgical wards at Royal Brompton Hospital in a songwriting process, resulting in new musical material and culminating in the public performance and recording of this material. By providing the opportunity to work alongside professional musicians, rb&hArts aimed not only to relieve some of the stress and boredom of the hospital environment, but to facilitate the creation of high-quality compositions, sensitively incorporating participants’ creative input.

During this project, Firefly Burning worked in two distinct ways: performance, and composition. Both were intended to be as interactive as possible. One of the key aims was to experiment with these different ways of working to discover which was the most valuable in the hospital environment.

rb&hArts’ annual music programme funded the project, which served as a pilot for a longer music residency that would require dedicated project funding.

Full Impact Narrative


Firefly Burning

Firefly Burning is a five-piece musical collective: Bea Hankey, John Barber, Sam Glazer, James Redwood and Jack Ross. They create songs which “paint sound pictures” with Javanese gamalan, guitar, strings, piano, gongs and voices. At the time of this project they were writing their second album. As well as performing and recording, all the members of Firefly Burning have extensive experience of working in a wide variety of community settings.

rb&hArts music programme

rb&hArts programmes a wide range of music-based events at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals. They range from performances by professional musicians on the hospital wards to our regular Singing for Breathing classes. We have hosted residencies with sound and visual artists in the past, but this project was the first time we have invited musicians to develop new work in the hospital setting.

1.Proposal, planning and structure

We approached Firefly Burning because we recognised the unique combination of accomplished musicianship and community facilitation skills the group could offer. This was essential to the success of the residency, in which we wanted to expose patients and staff to a high-quality, artistic experience, while also ensuring it was accessible to a wide spectrum of people and appropriate for the hospital environment. It was also important that the residency offered something to both the participants and the musicians. From the beginning, Firefly Burning expressed an interest in what they could learn from their time in the hospital, and how it might affect their future work and their development as a group .

rb&hArts and Firefly Burning had a planning meeting before the residency started and agreed on a schedule consisting of:

  • a weekly full-day visit to Royal Brompton for six weeks, with two or three band members each time
  • one full band on-site rehearsal day
  • one full band performance day

The project ran from 16 January to 6 March 2013.

2. Residency days

Performances in paediatric outpatients

The musicians spent about an hour playing in the Children’s Outpatients’ waiting room during the morning of each visit. They encouraged children to join in as they played, often spending significant time engaging with one or two young patients.

Performances and songwriting in adult surgical wards

The musicians spent the afternoon of each visit on the adult surgical wards (York, Paul Wood, Elizabeth and Princess Alexandra). They visited the various patient bays, playing music and then asking patients for ideas on the theme of Imagined Landscapes, using picture postcards of landscapes as an initial stimulus for discussion. Depending on their own preferences, some patients contributed ideas through conversation, others sang or played with the musicians.

Over the course of the six weeks, over 100 patients, relatives and staff were present during the performances and songwriting sessions.

3. Composition and rehearsal

Following each session on the wards, the musicians remained in the hospital to discuss and consolidate new ideas from the people they had worked with that day. They used an empty space on the ground floor of Sydney Wing to play through new material. This space was also available in the mornings prior to the time spent in paediatric outpatients, and was used for an on-site rehearsal where the three musicians could work out new arrangements to suit the instruments and players available on the day.

Following the six days of gathering ideas, Firefly Burning met as a five-piece on 1 March and spent a day at the hospital finishing their new compositions, rehearsing and recording them. This had originally been planned as an open rehearsal, to take place in a public space. However, as the date approached the band requested for the rehearsal to be private to allow them to focus on polishing the work to a high standard in time for public performances.

4. Public performances and recordings

On 6 March, Firefly Burning visited Royal Brompton Hospital for the final time. They spent the morning fine-tuning their new material before a lunchtime performance in the hospital coffee shop.

In the afternoon the band performed in the hospital school and revisited the wards where they had written the music to share the new compositions, followed by another performance in the Level 5 lift lobby, close to the adult surgical wards. During this time they performed to a number of patients who had contributed to the compositions, and the lift lobby performance in particular attracted many staff and patients who stayed to watch for the full 30 minutes.

Recordings of the songs performed on the final day of the residency can be found on rb&hArts’ SoundCloud page:

Firefly Burning intend to develop some of the material written during the residency for future performances or albums.

Project evaluation
Audience and participant feedback

rb&hArts gathered audience and participant feedback through questionnaires handed to patients, staff and visitors who were present during one of the band’s performances or writing sessions. This data was used to compile a detailed evaluation report, from which the below is extracted.

  • 96 people responded to the questionnaire over the 7 days.
  • These were 53% patients, 37% visitors and 10% staff.
  • Words chosen from a multiple choice list to describe the experience were 97% positive.
  • 82% of respondents said the experience was beneficial to them and 96% of staff and visitors felt that it was beneficial to patients.
  • Asked what we could have done differently, 83% said ‘nothing’ or left this question blank, with a further 6% saying they would have liked longer or more frequent events.
Artist feedback

Immediately after the final performances, all five members of Firefly Burning took part in a formal debrief, which was audio-recorded. The band gave extremely positive feedback, saying that they had enjoyed the residency and found it a unique experience for a number of reasons. These included:

  • feeling a real sense of ownership over the music in contrast to other community projects; that while it was inspired by the people they worked with, it belonged to them, to perform as a band.
  • learning about themselves creatively as individuals and as a band, through playing in different combinations and through improvising in new ways.
  • being given the time and space required to develop the new material and hone it to performance standard; particularly through the full-band rehearsal day, funded by rb&hArts, prior to the performance.
  • being effectively managed and guided by a team who understand the needs of professional musicians 
  • entering the wards as a trio rather than individuals; thus bringing with them a group dynamic that patients and staff could join in with; as opposed to an interaction with a solo musician, which can be more awkward.
  • revisiting the same wards each week and beginning to build a rapport with key members of staff (though it was noted that these relationships were only just starting to be formed at the end of the six weeks).
  • being allowed to work closely with extremely small groups (one to three patients); enhancing the quality of the interaction.
  • having a member of the rb&hArts team present when entering new spaces; particularly in the early stages of building relationships with ward staff. The band commented that they felt more able to be open and creative when they did not have to worry about being “allowed” to enter a space. Negative attitudes from staff or patients, while rare, could result in the musicians feeling unwelcome or nervous and closing themselves off to the possibilities in the space.
  • the opportunity to work with individuals in side rooms, allowing longer interactions with a single patient where appropriate.
  • the value of bringing in an “exotic” instrument (in this case, a klang), which can be played in different ways by different people and is new or unfamiliar to almost everyone.
  • being reminded that it is possible to write songs quickly and simply from a handful of words.
  • being forced (in order to write songs quickly and accessibly while with patients) to reconsider using musical motifs that might normally be considered “too cheesy” for a Firefly Burning composition, such as 4/4 time or “obvious” chord progressions.

All five members of Firefly Burning agreed that they would like to be involved in another residency in the future.

The band’s suggestions for improvements / changes that could be made for future projects included:

  • a longer total time period, allowing relationships with ward staff to be developed further.
  • deeper exploration of whether it is possible to write melody with patients more often, as opposed to focusing mainly on lyrics.
  • involving a wider range of staff, not just those through whom patients are reached, for example, research and clerical staff.

rb&hArts’ key observations of the project were:

that while both modes of working (performance and composition) were extremely well received, the interactive songwriting sessions on the adult surgical units seemed the most valuable element of the residency in terms of establishing relationships with participants and truly engaging them in the creative process.

that having three musicians (rather than a soloist, for example) alters the dynamic significantly and facilitates more comfortable interaction between patients and artists.

that musicians require “chaperoning” for longer than we might have anticipated. Even after six weeks the musicians were only just beginning to build key relationships with ward staff. Attempting to work alone before such relationships have been established may compromise the artistic quality of the work.

that the compositional residency model offers many possibilities for the future, for example, taking medical / scientific ideas as a theme, music inspiring or inspired by visual art, working with specific staff groups.

Contact Information

Jenni Halton

Arts Administrator


Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust

Sydney Street



0207 352 8121 ext 4087

Humanities Subjects

Health Care Areas

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